Ellen Gates Starr

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Ellen Gates Starr

Death: February 10, 1940 (80)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Caleb Allen Starr and Susan Childs Gates
Partner of Jane Addams
Sister of Mary Houghton Starr; William Wesley Starr and Albert Childs Starr

Managed by: Private User
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About Ellen Gates Starr


Ellen Gates Starr (March 19, 1859, near Laona, Illinois – February 10, 1940, in Suffern, New York) was an American social reformer and activist.


Ellen Starr was born in Laona, Illinois. She was a student at the Rockford Female Seminary (1877–78), where she met Jane Addams; their friendship lasted many years, although some historians have suggested that Starr was a lesbian who had a particularly close relationship with Addams. Starr taught for ten years in Chicago before joining Addams in 1888 for a tour of Europe. While in London, they were inspired by the success of the English Settlement movement and became determined to establish a similar social settlement in Chicago.

They returned to Chicago and co-founded Hull House as a kindergarten and then a day nursery, an infancy care centre, and a center for continuing education for adults. Starr was also active in the campaign to reform child labor laws and industrial working conditions in Chicago. She was a member of the Women's Trade Union League and helped organize striking garment workers in 1896, 1910, and 1915. However, by belief she was firmly anti-industrialisation, idealizing the guild system of the Middle Ages and later the Arts and Crafts Movement. She taught such writers as Shakespeare, Dante and Robert Browning in the slums of Chicago to children who could not afford school education. She practiced her preachings about community labour to the extent of traveling to Britain to learn bookbinding.She was arrested at a restaurant strike.

Although Starr possessed an interest in Roman Catholicism for many years, it was only when she believed the Church was seriously teaching social justice that she converted in 1920. Even after that, her work in campaigns against child labour met with much opposition from inside the Church. In 1931, seriously ill, Ellen Gates Starr retired to a Roman Catholic convent in Suffern, New York, where she died on February 10, 1940. She was cared for by the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, but she was not a member of their religious community (or any other).


Ellen Gates Starr was born near Laona, Illinois, the third of four children of Caleb Allen Starr and Susan Childs Gates Starr. She attended local schools and enrolled at Rockford Seminary, Rockford, Illinois, in 1877. She spent only one year at Rockford because her father could not afford the tuition. She taught at a country school in Mount Morris, Illinois, and in 1879 accepted a position at Miss Kirkland's School for Girls in Chicago where she taught a variety of subjects. Although religion was not part of her early upbringing, she spent much of her life in search of religious truth. She was greatly influenced by her aunt, Eliza Allen Starr, a devout Roman Catholic convert, writer, and lecturer. In 1884 Ellen joined the Episcopal Church.

Ellen Starr and a trusted friend Jane Addams got together as friends when Ellen was a teacher. A female love of Starr's had moved away and she was heartbroken. She wrote to Jane, "The first real experience I ever had in my life of any real pain in parting, came with separating from her. I don't speak of it because people don't understand it. People would understand if it were a man." Soon Addams would become the object of Starr's affection. It is not clear whether Jane returned the affection.

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Ellen Gates Starr's Timeline

March 19, 1859
February 10, 1940
Age 80